Twenty-one year old Palestinian student Layan Nasir, who had been planning to continue her 4th year of Nutrition studies at Birzeit University in the fall, slept in her own bed last Thursday night for the first time since seven Israeli soldiers raided her family home in the early morning hours of 7 July.
Layan is an active member of St. Peter’s Anglican/Episcopal Church in her hometown of Birzeit, approximately 12 miles north of Jerusalem. She was released on 26 August upon payment of 24,000 NIS bail (about US $7,500), a reversal of the Israeli military court’s decision to deny bail which had been handed down week before last.
As is the usual pattern, the court did not provide a reason why Layan’s appeal was granted, but her case has begun to generate a fair amount of international attention.
Samidoun, the Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network, first published an account of her arrest, noting that two days before, she had shared on social media about attacks she and others had suffered at the hands of undercover Palestinian Authority security forces, who violently beat students protesting the assassination of Palestinian activist Nizar Banat.
Birzeit University reported increased Israeli aggression against its students, including the mass arrest of Layan and 13 other students on 7 July. The violence was “neither new nor unprecedented”, it said, and the University called on international organizations to “take a stand against these severe human rights violations and to raise awareness of them worldwide,” and to “hold the occupation authorities accountable to ensure the sanctity of higher-education institutions and protect academic freedoms and human rights”.
The actual charges brought against Layan by the Israeli military prosecutor were not revealed until a 5 August court appearance, nearly a month after she had been handcuffed, blindfolded, and taken from her home. According to a statement issued by her parents, the charges against Layan and the other students “are baseless and absurd. The evidence presented against Layan reflects the normal activities of any student and engaged citizen. She is accused of walking through the university campus discussing union activities, organizing nature walks for her classmates and friends, becoming part of the emergency committee formed during the coronavirus pandemic, and visiting students recently released from prison.” The statement continues, “Layan’s arrest illustrates the ways Israeli military law criminalizes the most fundamental and mundane aspects of a Palestinian student’s life.”
Perhaps the most serious of the charges against her was that Layan was an active member of a Birzeit University student group, the Democratic Progressive Student Pole. That group was banned by the Israeli Occupation Forces in August 2020, for unrevealed reasons. According to al Haq, an independent Palestinian non-governmental human rights organization, the Israeli military uses unjust regulations which they inherited from the British following he end of their Mandate rule in 1948.
In the United States, two petitions were started on Layan’s behalf using the Change.org website. The first was started shortly after her arrest and directed toward Representative Rashida Tlaib of Michigan. Representative Tlaib is the first Palestinian-American member of Congress, her grandmother lives in a small village some 12 miles west of Birzeit, so she may have been seen as a likely champion for Layan.
A second petition started about two weeks ago, and included the names of other women students who were arrested by the Israeli military around the same time. That petition is directed toward President Biden, Vice President Harris and Secretary of State Blinken, as well as Senate Majority Leader Schumer and House Speaker Pelosi, asking them to press Israeli authorities for the release of Layan and the other detainees. “The freedoms of expression and peaceful association are fundamental, universal human rights. We call on our elected representatives and those in authority within our government, to demand and pressure the Israeli government and military forces to immediately release Layan and her fellow students.”
Other international support for Layan and her fellow students came from the French Solidaires Trade Union which, in a translation of their 20 August website statement declared that, “Faced with this obvious denial of freedom of association, expression and the right to form unions for students, we demand the immediate and unconditional release of Layan Nasir, as well as dozens of detained students. for similar reasons…”
Layan was originally scheduled to be returned to court for the start of her trial on 24 August. The day prior to that, an article written by the Rev. Fadi Diab, Layan’s parish priest, appeared on the Mondoweiss website. In it he speaks movingly of Layan’s activism stemming from her baptismal vows. Father Diab describes Layan as “a remarkable young woman with a calm demeanor, tender spirit, and incredible potential.”. However, “…in Layan’s and other Palestinian Christian youths’ experience, Israel’s efforts to delegitimize, silence and attack student unions challenging the systemic oppression of the occupation is seen as an attack on the Christian Baptismal Covenant.” Father Diab continued, “For Christians in Palestine, this means resisting historical, political, economic and cultural structures that are at odds with the life and teachings of Jesus Christ – loving the enemy who is created in the image of God while, at the same time, resisting the enemy’s occupation.”
On 25 August, Father Diab accompanied Layan’s parents on a visit to St. George’s Anglican/Episcopal Cathedral, where they met with the Archbishop in Jerusalem, the Most Reverend Hosam Naoum. While the purpose of the visit was primarily pastoral, the Archbishop did appear in photos with Layan’s parents flanking a banner with Layan’s picture and a call for her release in Arabic. According to a Facebook statement issued by the Diocese of Jerusalem’s Media Office, Archbishop Naoum inquired about [Layan’s] situation in the Israeli Prison,” and “assured the family that they have the church’s support, especially during these difficult times” He also mentioned that he has been in contact with officials both inside and outside of the country, and will continue to do that in the hope that [Layan] will be freed soon.”
The Archbishop did not have to wait long. By midday last Thursday, efforts to return Layan to her home in Birzeit were well under way, and shortly after 7pm local time she crossed the Israeli military checkpoint between Nazareth and Jenin where she was met by friends and members of her family. A brief video of Layan crossing over to her friends can be seen on YouTube. It took another several hours for Layan to reach Birzeit, where additional family and friends had gathered to welcome her home.
Since Layan is out on bail, it is expected that she will be taken into custody at some point before her trial in Jerusalem in October. It s hoped that the worldwide Anglican Communion, and especially the American Episcopal Church will be vocal in their support of Layan and other Palestinian students rights to free speech and free association. The Church Times in Great Britain quotes Layan’s father on the day before her release, “We are distressed and concerned at the way we have been treated when our daughter is completely innocent. But we will fight on for justice.” He concluded by saying, “We… call upon activists, and people of conscience, to stand in solidarity with Palestinian students”.
Thanks to EPF PIN Member Randy Hey-Lamb for the reporting.